Intro and interview by Mona.
When it comes to Tangalo I especially find both their Pugliese and D’Arienzo very inspiring. I enjoy dancing to their live music mainly because of their fresh interpretation and also the energy they bring throughout their performances.
I commend their dedication to this great art of Tango and we are very fortunate in Sydney to have such musicians adding tremendous variety and value to our scene. Exposure to live music is a fantastic opportunity for our community and both Sydney Tango and Tango Synergy encourage tango orchestras to share their talents and passion for Tango with fellow dancers at their special events.
Owen and Emily-Rose from Tangalo have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their love for tango. 🙂
- Tell me about your music background.
Owen: I started out as a very young child playing Celtic folk music with my family on the flute. I had wanted to play wooden flute, but started on silver flute as I was too small for an Irish flute. Through classical flute lessons I gradually became enamoured of a lot of musical styles, eventually trying out styles as diverse as Baroque music, Jazz Manouche, Salsa, Bossa Nova, and Balkan Music. At some point, around age 16, I switched from primarily wanting to be a classical performer, to wanting to compose. Consequently I studied composition at the Sydney Conservatorium and eventually completed honours in classical composition. I play the flute, the tin whistle, I used to play guitar more (but have recently ceased due to complications from an injury) and more recently I have been pouring my efforts into the bandoneon. I have also, at one time or another, dabbled in saxophone, clarinet, french horn, cello, cavaquinho and can clomp around on a piano in a way that makes me seem like a pianist if you are not yourself a pianist. If you are a pianist then my piano playing is DREADFUL.
Emily-Rose: My Mother was a piano teacher (and dance teacher) so as soon as I was able to sit up I was put in front of a piano and taught by her until the age of 15 when I took my diploma in performance. It was then that we made the decision to move me to the Australian Institute of music for the last year and a half of my high school training so that I could be around like minded people. I had tuition from an amazing and very strict ‘Russian school’ piano teacher but at the same time was exposed to a whole heap of different styles from jazz and pop to heavy metal and prog rock. I became quite enamoured by jazz and even did a jazz arrangement for trio of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for my HSC performance. I also became very interested in composition at the time and this resulted in a very ambition 3 auditions for the Conservatorium of Music in Classical piano, Jazz piano and Composition. I started off studying composition, but quickly changed over to classical piano performance in my second year and was forever trying to do jazz subjects in my electives. Whilst there I also studied a year on exchange in Germany and took masterclasses in France. It was also in my second year of university that I took up piano accordion, joined a klezmer group and was introduced to the world of folk festivals. The accordion took my life in a whole new direction – opening up so many new possibilities. It has just been in the last 2 years that I have taken up the study of another type of squeezebox – the Bandoneon.
- How Tangalo started and where from the love for tango?
Owen: For me the first spark of tango enthusiasm came when I purchased, completely at random, a CD of the music of Astor Piazzolla interpreted by an amazing classical saxophonist. I was instantly hooked and decided I wanted to play bandoneon. This was of course a ridiculous thing to think as a 15 year old living in country Victoria, but eventually when I met Emily-Rose (whilst she was playing gypsy tunes on accordion at a festival no less…) and discovered that we had a shared love of tango music and culture, the idea of creating a tango orchestra seemed somewhat less far-fetched. Working with what we had (Flute, Guitar, Accordion, Double Bass and Piano) we booked a concert, created repertoire by transcribing tango songs, and went for it. The huge support and encouragement that we received from the tango community helped to give us enough momentum to keep improving and eventually travel to Argentina where we learned how to REALLY play tango, and I bought a bandoneon. So 11 years later I am living the dream! Our most recent concerts have been as a 9 piece orchestra (orquesta…) with 3 violins, viola, bass clarinet, 2 bandoneons, double bass and piano. This includes the original quintet of Tángalo members, but also some of our other dear friends, who happen to be world-class musicians. Through this process, my love of tango music has deepened, become more nuanced, and definitely taken on a hint of obsession.
Emily-Rose: In my second year of university a friend took me to a milonga – there was a performance and I had a go of social dancing without having any idea of what tango really was. After that night I was hooked. I began lessons in Sydney and then found a whole other world of Tango in Germany when I studied there. Despite studying classical piano whilst there I feel I may have done more tango playing on accordion and dancing! Being back in Sydney I felt there was a real misunderstanding of the excitement that live music can create in our social spaces – partly from the lack of excited bands and so together with Owen we formed a group which has gone from strength to strength. I don’t think I really knew what I was getting into back then – especially since now requires the use of a new fiendishly instrument! What is really great is that the members we recruited has also stuck around and come on the journey with us. Susie on violin and vocals, Amy Putt on piano and Johan Delin on Double Bass.
- What are you doing when you are not working with the band?
Owen: I teach some flute students, and more recently I have been also lecturing at a University, taking classes in Harmony, Aural Perception Skills, and an Ensemble Performance Class looking into Tango and Balkan Music. I am also back at university studying a fulltime combined Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts, as I have been hungry to delve more into two of my non-musical passions; Linguistics and Chemistry. Sleep is for the weak!
Emily-Rose: Much of my time is spent on dancing tango and other musical pursuits. I help run Sydney Tango House with my partner Refik – which involves teaching a few nights a week, touring, performing and also selling tango clothes! I teach a couple of afternoons a week mostly piano students and have another wonderful group called Chaika which plays balkan influenced original folk music and at other times I freelance as a performer and accompanist.
- Who is making the musical arrangements for Tangalo? How do you keep connected with the Argentinian tango culture?
Owen: Both Emily-Rose and myself create the arrangements for the band. Some of them are essentially copies of the classic performances of the great tango orchestras, re-worked to fit our ensemble, but an increasing number of our arrangements are 100% original in design. We love these tracks because we can really create a sound that is uniquely “Tángalo”, rather than “Tángalo interpreting D’Arienzo”. Emily-Rose and myself have different arranging styles, and different methods in the arranging process. Often we work best when one person edits and gives feedback on the other person’s work; this way the best of both of our abilities are displayed in the piece. Emily-Rose is far better than I at coming up with really idiomatic and saucy piano parts, so I often outsource this to her when working on a piece. Conversely lately I have been doing arrangements for really big forces (9 up to 20 or 30 musicians) so I am well practised at managing this type of ensemble writing. Always we have more to learn.
It is hard to stay immersed in Argentine tango culture, living and working in Sydney. I talk a lot to my friends in Argentina, and try to dance when I can find the time. I listen constantly to tango music; I make a point of chasing up a lot of new orchestras and keeping abreast of the developing tango music culture around the world. I am intending to be back in Argentina in December this year, so I will hopefully be able to stock up on new music, ideas, and techniques.
Emily-Rose: What Owen said! I’ve also been back to Buenos Aires recently again for 3 months and this definitely was a different experience to the first time with the band. I felt I was able to get more into the city and people. I love watching youtube videos of my favourite dancers and musicians and I am also always trying to improve my Spanish in little ways when I can find the time!
- Both of you are also tango dancers. Tell me what orchestras/songs you love to play and what do you love to dance.
D’Arienzo as he is so fun (especially Paciencia, Este es El Rey, La Bruja, El Puntazo).
Hugo Diaz for the soul.
Calo because he is so sweet.
Troilo, especially the arrangements of Julia Plaza (think Nostalgico, Danzarin) because he commands such a huge orchestra force and has such a delicious interplay of colours.
Pugliese – it is REALLY difficult music but really fun.
Horacio Salgan – Vale Maestro. He is overlooked by many dancers because his music is not used for dancing, but it is really amazing stuff.
I am also going to have a special extra category of “To Listen”:
Sexteto Meridional – the group of the young (but AMAZING) argentine pianist and arranger Pablo Estagarribia – They are outrageously good and have a wonderfully classicist aesthetic.
Rodolfo Mederos – My favourite bandoneonist and a master of soul and of humour.
Orquesta Silbando – A group of 7 young french musicians. They are just awesome. So much life and colour and a great ensemble sound. Their string section puts everyone else making music to shame.
Emily-Rose: Again – what Owen said! But I will add: I love the Francini-Pontier Orquesta and it is a shame they are not played more often in milongas. For new tango orchestras the Silencio Orquesta from Europe in also really amazing and I love the use of bass clarinet and their original arrangements. One of the best orchestras I heard in Buenos Aires was also Ariel Ardit y su Orquesta (he is the singer and front man). I loved them because it was amazingly danceable but so incredibly original and brilliant arrangements. It was also VERY large! I also love some of the contemporary projects coming out of Buenos Aires for listening including the jazz/tango/classical fusion group Diego Schissi Quinteto.
- Tell me more about the October project with Nestor Vaz.
Owen: Néstor is a real master bandoneonist and it is an honour to be working with him. He is coming out for a month from Uruguay and we will be doing a few things with him. For all of our big concerts we will be bulking up to an 8 piece orchestra and for dancing (and listening) this will be a real treat. Emily-Rose and Néstor will also be doing some concerts as a duo, playing a selection of duos for two bandoneons and also piano, solos, and songs. This will have a much more intimate feel, and show off the side of tango that can sometimes get lost in the dance-hall love of the big orchestras.
Emily-Rose: It’s hard to think he is arriving in a few days. There is about to be a very intense period of rehearsals! We have some great duo concerts booked – one at Tango in the Spring in Canberra and another at Camelot Lounge on October 6th. The Uruguayen Club (who is sponsoring Nestor) have 2 big events, a milonga on Oct 8th and also a concert Oct 22nd. We are also doing a concert in Newcastle on the 7th of Oct and a what will be a great concert on 28th of Oct at The Foundry. Plus of course – the biggest Milonga on the calendar this year on the 29th!
- What are you preparing for Milonga de la Gente guests?
Owen: We don’t want to give away too much, but with 8 musicians, including 3 bandoneons, you are going to have a smashing night. We will be playing a whole lot of stuff not usually part of the Tángalo repertoire and it is going to be a really wild night.
- How do you choose the set you play for a milonga in general? How big is your repertoire?
Owen: Never big enough! We always have a “to do list” of songs. Generally we have enough repertoire on the go at any one point for 6 tandas worth of dancing to, plus a few other pieces that we use just for concert performances. As we have a constant drive to improve, we do find that a new piece invariably replaces an old one, and so the list of “de-commissioned” pieces is enormous. I just did a quick count of the old pieces and it comes in near 100 tangos. That represents quite a lot of Saturday night’s in front of the computer making parts!
- What plans do you have for Tangalo after October 2016, where can we enjoy your music live?
Owen: As I mentioned before, I am heading to Argentina to do some work under the guidance of the master bandoneonist Ramiro Boero. We have been fantasising about taking some time off after I return for an artistic retreat to cook up some new projects…so who knows. In the next couple of years we would love to see an explosion of tango music in Sydney, so hopefully we can help that to happen. One thing high on my to-do list is to gather all the various tango musicians in Australia in the one place, at some point, to share ideas and make music. Keep your eyes peeled, as we will doubtlessly be doing something cool soon.
Emily-Rose: I want to see lots of collaboration. Collaboration with other tango musicians in Australia and overseas and artists of different disciplines – dancers, acrobats, painters. People can always keep up to date if they join our mailing list!
- Tell me the difference between playing tango music for tango dancers and non-tango dancers.
Owen: Non-tango dancers ask for Libertango, Tango-dancers ask for Loca. Ha ha ha. I think that playing tango is a constant process of educating people as to what tango is. A lot of people who come to see us don’t really have a clear idea of what they are in for; their only experience of tango is from Moulin Rouge, or Chicago, and these types of films tend not to show argentine tango, but a more Europeanised musical style. So with the non-dancer audiences we are putting on a show and hopefully making them feel, vicariously, some of the drama and sensuality that we feel as musicians and dancers. For a dancer audience, we try to really make the music kick along, so that they have fun dancing. It is my hope though, that by being exposed to live music, the dancers are more aware of the intricacies of the music and begin to listen more carefully, and with more enthusiasm to ALL the music that they encounter.
Emily-Rose: I would like to know how this question would have been answered back in the golden age of tango – when dancers didn’t rely on their knowledge of the music from listening to recordings over and over again. It would have all been so fresh to hear! Now days I feel that a lot of non-tango dancers have more open ears to original music and existing tango dancers have a tendency to fall into wanting music that they know. That is probably the same way with many people though – they like to hear familiarity. I love watching the faces of tango dancers and listeners in Buenos Aires when there is an excellent band playing. Some people want to dance, some want to listen but all of them are loving it in their own ways. I think the point is whoever we are catering for we want to give people an awesome experience – so we also want to play music that is exciting to us!
- Do you have any message for tango community in Sydney?
Owen: Thank you for all of your support. We wouldn’t have made it this far alone. Let’s make Australia one of the world’s tango capitals! Keep dancing and keep coming to see live music.
Emily-Rose: Expand your mind when it comes to tango – there are some really amazing experiences out there to be had by all. Watch and listen to what is going on in our current tango worlds as well as music and dance from the past. And please – get your non-tango friends dancing tango! The more the merrier 😀
Thank you! See you soon! Looking forward for your Milonga de la Gente set!